DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Caroline Nixon and is copyright (c) 1976 by Caroline Nixon. Rated PG13. Originally published in R&R #6/7.
The Little Sleep
Kirk sat in the pilot's seat of the shuttlecraft Columbus, staring thoughtfully at the star-dotted blackness spread before him on the viewscreen. On board a starship, he always felt somewhat insulated from the frightening vastnesses, but here in the smaller vessel, he was very conscious of the insignificance and helplessness that was mankind's in the infinite oceans of outer space. If in one single galaxy there were billions of scattered suns, the number of the galaxies themselves was just as endless, forever unmeasurable by feeble instrumentation.
A haunting phrase from an old Earth-song he'd once heard kept running through his brain like a looped tape, endlessly repeating itself:
"...and we're lost out here in the stars..."
Foolish, really. Lost they were not. They were faultlessly on course and well within schedule, just under halfway on the two week journey to the Interstellar Scientific Congress at Starfleet Headquarters, their precious cargo safe and sound and mercifully out of sight, as she was for most of the time, in the tiny cubbyhold that had been partitioned off from the main cabin for her use.
Kirk knew his attitude was ridiculous, but he just couldn't help feeling like a gangling, runny-nosed school kid, all red wrists and over-large feet, in the presence of their passenger, but he took comfort in the reflection that everybody, even his First Officer, had shown a similar reaction. The look of awed respect Spock turned on her when she addressed him sat strangely on his dark face, the austere Vulcan impassivity giving way to a definite unsureness for the first time since Kirk had known him. Even the usually copious flow of polysyllabic verbiage was quelled by the quiet but compelling presence of the Ijlal of Heyt.
Not truly of Heyt. Her people would not discuss the location of their parent world, other than to say it was not of this galaxy. They had settled on Heyt, a world which circled a star far out in the galaxy rim, and had rather indolently acknowledged the hailing of the passing Federation ship whose sensors first detected their presence a few years back. They had no cause to hide -- their group numbered a mere fifteen, but the power of their intelligence was awesome.
Back on board the Enterprise, Kirk had often sensed that Ijlal was mildly scornful at the primitiveness of the craft -- regarded it with indulgent amusement, as a starship designer would a child's model of matchsticks and modeling clay.
It had been infuriating to be humored -- which made his embarrassment all the greater, when his graceful ship had a disastrous argument with an oversized asteroid, and the elegant swan was metamorphosised, to become a waddling duck. The Enterprise was now having her wings set at Starbase 7 and the journey had been resumed in the shuttlecraft. Kirk did not even dare to think what Ijlal thought of shuttlecrafts. If she didn't like it, then she could whip up a micro-engineered warp-drive engine from the contents of her beauty box, he thought, petulantly. But then it was not her people's policy to introduce their advanced technology into a civilization that was not ready to receive it. Children who played with matches could burn their fingers, and maybe even set the house on fire...
A door slid open, and Kirk looked up eagerly, expecting to see McCoy. The doctor had been resting, and the captain was anxious to talk to him, to dispel with friendly banter the indefinable cloud of apprehension that had been obscuring clear thought for several hours.
But it was Ijlal of Heyt. She moved over to the helm, the sculptured white folds of her classic gown brushing Kirk's legs as she took the seat beside him. She did not address him, beyond a brief glance of greeting, and sat silently studying the star fields, as he eyed her palely harmonious profile. It was not perfect -- her nose was just a fraction too short for that -- but when the full force of the luminous amethyst eyes was directed away from him, he could almost forget what she was, and begin to see her as a beautiful woman. Her skin was the color of rich milk, and her two thick plaits of hair had the shifting metallic lustre of a sun-lit Vulcan sea, molten copper and bronze, intermingled.
"We are on course," she stated. She had not even glanced at the instruments. The star-patterns told her all she needed to know. The Heytans had skipped from galaxy to galaxy since time immemorial and their knowledge of astrogation was encyclopaedic.
Kirk said nothing, other than a mumbled, "Yes, Ma'am..."
"Captain Kirk." Ijlal had turned to address the human now and reluctantly he faced her. "My presence irks you, does it not?"
Kirk gulped, wide eyes giving the lie to his too-hasty disclaimer.
"No need to pretend, Captain," he was told. "I assure you I have not invaded your consciousness. Your uneasiness is plain enough from your outward demeanor."
Kirk studied his fingernails, shamefacedly.
"It is I who owe the apology," Ijlal went on, in her quiet, clear voice. "I realize that I have shown not a little condescension, in my attitude to you and your world. The knowledge that I am capable of such small-mindedness should be a comfort to you."
She held up a hand to check his denial. "After all, if I am endowed beyond you, no honor accrues to me because of it. It is merely that my face is older and has had the chance to mature further. We were once as you are now -- just as your race was planet-bound and primitive." Her lips curved into a fleeting smile. "The only difference between us is time -- and time has no moral value."
Kirk felt himself relax, and when she initiated a discussion on the forthcoming conference and the papers he, Spock, and McCoy were intending to present, he found himself quite at ease in putting forward his own opinions. Even when he realized later that every single piece of information there presented would be nursery-school stuff for her, he was confident that she was not intending to sneer. She would be a genuine observer, appreciating all the hard work that had gone into each paper's preparation. Effort and dedication were what mattered. All else was just an accident of birth.
* * *
In the warmth which Ijlal's words had radiated, Kirk was able to forget his anxieties for a brief while, which was fortunate, as it was some time before he was able to have a word with McCoy on the subject. Spock had looked pale and strained, but perfectly calm as he had taken over thecontrols, and the Captain went through the main cabin, to find that Ijlal had retreated to her hidey-hole again. McCoy was sitting on one of the benches, lost in thought, a cooling cup of coffee between his hands.
"Hello, Bones. Worried about something?"
McCoy's pale blue eyes were puffed with strain as he looked up at his Captain. "Spock. You've noticed, too, of course, Jim."
Kirk nodded wordlessly and sat down heavily beside him.
"I've not dared to get a scan on him," McCoy was saying. "You know how touchy he is, he'd bite my head off, even when he was in the best of health. But I've noticed he gets a little tenser as each hour goes by... I can't help remembering that weird radiation that penetrated our shields, back on the Enterprise, after contact with the asteroid. I would think of it now when it's too late to check out..."
"Not even Spock knew what it was, Bones," Kirk pointed out. "No one could have foreseen this -- there was no reason for us to put off the journey, always supposing it was that that triggered him off."
McCoy sighed raggedly. "Sometimes I think I'll never understand just why Starfleet employs Vulcans at all. You never can tell what's going to upset their metabolism and then -- wham! It's like being expected to ship with a walking time bomb with a faulty fuse," he grumbled.
Kirk put a sympathetic hand on McCoy's shoulder, realising that most of the doctor's annoyance was caused by his grudging affection for the First Officer. Kirk shared his feelings. Pon farr shouldn't happen to a dog, never mind a being of such quiet integrity as Spock.
The two men sat for a while in miserable silence, turning the alternatives open to them over and over in their minds and finding them all equally unsatisfactory. Impossible to reach Vulcan before it was too late -- impossible even to reach base hospital where he could at least be made comfortable. Perhaps if they had been on board the Enterprise, Spock could have been persuaded to accept one of the several female crewmembers who held him in affection, but even that, Kirk doubted. There were no mules on Vulcan -- that ecological niche was more than adequately filled by the indigenous humanoid population.
Kirk's teeth set grimly at the irony of it all. The most obvious solution was at the same time the most unthinkable. The thought of explaining Spock's predicament to Ijlal, with the demands it implied, was daunting -- his entire digestive system spasmed with fluttering panic at the idea, but he could have gone through with it, if his own equanimity had been the only concern. But Spock's agonized humiliation at having raw biological need exposed to a being he held in such respect was too horrible to contemplate. Even if he survived the pon farr, he'd die later from sheer shame, when his senses returned -- maybe die reproaching Kirk for his betrayal.
He caught McCoy gazing blankly at Ijlal's door.
"No, Bones," he said, and his voice cracked on the words.
"I guess not," McCoy conceded gruffly. "He'd never forgive us. God, what a mess." And his head went between his hands, to hide the naked sorrow on his face.
* * *
They were at least spared the embarrassment of Ijlal's company. She kept to her cabin, not even emerging to eat. And they were also spared the awkwardness of broaching the topic of pon farr to Spock. He came to the dimly lit cockpit two days later, as Kirk sat at the controls, a dark, gaunt spectre haunting the shadows behind him.
"Captain. We have made good time so far."
"Yes, Spock. We're several hours ahead of schedule." What was he getting at?
"Then a diversion to the Beta Cygni system would not lose you too much time."
"The Beta Cygni system?" Kirk parroted, miserably.
"Yes, Captain." Spock's voice was hollow. "The fourth planet has an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere."
"But no intelligent life as yet." No help for him there...
"No, sir. I can be left there without danger to anyone."
"Spock, I..." Kirk's throat constricted with sorrow.
Kirk nodded, swallowing. Further argument would only add to Spock's distress.
* * *
They left him in a grove of trees, vibrantly green with the newly-opened buds of the local spring. Bird-things chirped and rustled through the branches, and the light breeze stirred the grass and blended flower smells with the scent of cool wet earth.
They parted from him wordlessly, since no words could express the bitter depths of their feeling. Their sorrow, their frustration at their impotence - the sum of all he had meant to them, and the unbearable pain his loss would inflict on them. And most of all, the chill horror at the manner of his death.
Spock held himself in check until they had passed through the ring of silver-trunked trees and then he flung himself face down on the grass, ignoring the piled blankets they had left him, burying his face in his arm, and shuddering, as the eager-tongued flames closed around him.
* * *
Ijlal of Heyt was sitting on the steps of the shuttle, eyes closed and face raised to the sun, as Kirk and McCoy came stumbling through the bushes and out onto the plain.
"It is most agreeable here," she greeted them. "Why have we landed?"
The two men exchanged awkward glances.
"Er ... we were ahead of schedule and we thought we could do with some fresh fruit and natural water," Kirk ventured. "I ... did try to notify you we were touching down, but when I knocked, you didn't answer."
Ijlal inclined her head in acknowledgment of the courtesy. "I apologize," she said. "I had been called away." She volunteered no further explanation. "But where are the fruits and water you have collected? And where is Mr. Spock?"
Kirk and McCoy gaped dumbly, at a loss for a credible excuse.
"If there is trouble, would it not be better to tell me?" Ijlal persisted. "I sensed an unquiet in you before, but I was not observant as I might be, and dismissed it as a simple wariness of an alien presence in your midst. You see, I have been involved in relaying information back to ... back home, and it required much concentration to bridge the distance."
"Spock is ... dying," Kirk said eventually, after a long painful silence. "There's nothing we can do."
"Maybe. But are you sure that there is nothing I can do?" she asked. "We are usually reluctant to interfere in your lives, but I think this is a special case. Mr. Spock still has a great deal to give to you and your galaxy. What is the matter with him?"
Kirk bit his lip and McCoy closed his eyes and turned away, nails digging into his clenched palms. But they were spared any further distress.
"No need for words," they heard her saying gently, "your faces are always most easy to read. For since Mr. Spock is Vulcan, such shamed sadness can have only one meaning. His mating time has come and you could not tell me. Captain, I am disappointed. I thought we understood each other."
Kirk slumped to the grass and took his head in his hands.
"Believe me, I'm sorry," he said wearily. "But it's a little difficult for me to think of you as a woman."
Ijlal gave a little trill of musical laughter. "I should have warned you," she smiled, "vanity is another of my sins. I'm suitably chastened by your words."
"But it wasn't really that, it was Spock..." Kirk could not find the words to continue, but his eyes spoke for him.
"I understand," Ijlal soothed. "Life has made him very vulnerable in this respect. It is his personal tragedy."
She stood up, shaking out the folds of her white robe as unconcernedly as if she were going for a country walk.
"Wait a little while, and we will return. Why not occupy yourselves with collecting those supplies you were mentioning? And do not distress yourselves further." She sighed a little, the amethyst eyes quietly reproachful. "If you had not all been overstubborn, things need not have reached this point and caused so much unnecessary suffering."
* * *
Flaring, hot tongues were licking greedily along his defenseless limbs. Bright flux seeped along his pulsing veins, searing him from inside as well as out ... the rippling wall of flame blocked his escape into the cool darkness of unconsciousness, driving him nearer and ever nearer to the precipice, and over into the seething crater of madness waiting there expectantly, a baleful orange eye in the abyss.
Helpless tears welled up in his dark eyes, as the aching hurt of utter loneliness overwhelmed him, but they too soon became scalding rain, scoring lines of pain along his cheeks.
But then, impossibly, there was the distant vision of deep, open water, the darkly glinting green of polar seas, strewn with the cool white blossoms of the ice-floes. A voice in his ears saying, "You are safe now," and a cool hand on his brow...
Through the red mist of pain he recognized the Heytan woman and turned brusquely from her touch.
"No..." Spock's voice rasped painfully in his parched throat, "the threat of this has haunted me. Let it be done with now -- once and for all."
Let death come and release him from this ever-present threat which would constantly renew itself, like the liver of Prometheus. The mating madness -- violation of his mind's citadel -- violation of the integrity of others, driven by tearing, animal need, selfish, uncaring ...
He struggled against the welcome bands of coolness that twined round his burning flesh ... to dash an honored amulet of pure serenity to the ground, and trample it in the filth...
But the strong but gentle arms did not release their hold.
"Did you hesitate to give of yourself when needed?" Ijlal argued, her calm penetrating the flames like fine autumn mist. "I watched you, in times of stress, feeding calm to your comrades, unasked and often without them realizing what you did. Accept help now, in the name of your compassion and their great need of you."
"'No..." he said again, gasping painfully, to gain the air to speak. ''I do not wish to fight this fight over again. I will not do my body's bidding."
"Then you shall not." Ijlal's voice was soft, soothing. "There is another way. May I have entry of your mind?"
Spock screwed his eyes shut in agony. Shame at the rank ugliness she would see made it impossible for him to assent.
"Stubborn child," she chided. "Desire has no power to disgust me. I have a responsibility. I cannot allow you to do this to yourself. Such needless waste..."
He had no defence, would not have had even in times of complete control, against the power of the mind that entered his, carefully, cautiously.
//You suffer so...// The spreading tendrils twined, probed, felt the screaming messages his nerve endings were sending to his brain. //Poor hurt one ... listen to me... I must have your cooperation or your mind will burn out.//
The host mind, deep again in battle fury, heard the appeal faintly, as if from a great distance.
//Listen to me....// she repeated. //This cannot be fought by resistance. The pressure will destroy you. Surrender is the way to victory. Remove the barriers and let the flames course through, and I will show you how to direct them safely into water, to be quenched.//
And there it was again, before his mind's eye, the grey-green ocean he had glimpsed before ... so far away.
//No ... it waits for you. Courage now. I will not let you falter and be engulfed. Remove the blocks ... now!//
Blinding, white hot fountain-burst of flame, raining down on him like incandescent petals, now tossing tortured on a fulminating flood of surging, heaving, molten rock, gushing, spreading, incinerating every green thing in its path, lost utterly, rushing to scalding annihilation...
//No ... there is but a little way to go now ... look...//
The breathless shock of launching blindly into the void ... the first hissing contact of molten lava plunging into the ice-cold ocean, a seemingly unending red-gold stream, under the feathered clouds of billowing steam. Surely the crater will boil and vaporize entirely and still the fire will rage...
//Not so ... the sea is boundless. And see, the flood slackens now...//
At last the blessedness of dark, cool depths closing over consciousness. Feeling and thought were no more.
* * *
He surfaced again and became aware that he was lying in her arms, his head pillowed against her, one gleaming plait over his shoulder, a cool, fragrant rope against his face. As he opened his dark eyes, quenched now of flame, she touched his cheek and smiled down at him.
"Your heart is brave, little one," she murmured, and he felt her mind begin to relinquish its protective hold on his. But he became filled with sudden panic, fearing that the newly-healed thought-surfaces would crack open again into bleeding wounds.
"Not yet!" he pleaded,
"Very well. But sleep now, and regain your strength."
"Sleep I cannot..." Prickling memories kept rising up in him, pulling at the tender scars.
"Sleep you will. Come to me, and I will give you dreams."
He felt the cool tendrils in his mind again, touching, caressing, drawing him down to a safe, dim haven.
Oblivion ... and then ahead a wall which thinned to curtain and then veil ... coral morning mists ... cool dawn of ambered apricot against dark ranks of serrated peaks ... brief brush of silver wing against cheek, face lifted to greet the welcome warmth, and eras full of liquid golden drops of song. Spock's mind lifted with the joy of homecoming. After a while he became aware of the presence beside him, sharing his pleasure in his home-world.
//The memory of one's birth-place is always dear,// she said, //but Vulcan has a beauty all its own. Come, what do you think of this?//
The gold and coral vision faded, and when the light came again, it was tinged with indigo. A blue sun hanging in bluer sky. //See, this is where I call home. Elis, sapphire of a galaxy you do not know of ... the secret jewel in the hearts of all my scattered people, for no one but ourselves has seen it, until now. It was our cradle, and now it is our haven, and our shrine.//
He was in a sky-world, a rhapsody in every shade of blue, from the deep richness of lapis lazuli, on to cobalt and azure, ranging through turquoise and through peacock, paling to the almost silver hue of northern skies on Terra... Grass of glinting aqua glass, dancing streams of liquid sapphire, flecked with pearly clusters of foam ... a great butterfly drifted past, beating frail wings of jeweled gauze, and alighted on his outstretched palm, the wide triangles of tissue-tender jade and amethyst quivering in the fragrant breeze. He felt its delicate feet against his skin ... his nostrils were filled with the scent of sweet spices, the taste of wine on his tongue.
But then the scene began to dissolve, and on the other side of darkness was a light that hurt his eyes. Protestingly, he tried to turn from it.
//You're waking up. I'm still here.//
//No ... not yet.//
//You cannot sleep indefinitely. Are you still not at peace? Let me see, then.//
She permitted herself to probe further into his consciousness than she had done before, into the deepest, secret recesses where she had previously refrained from trespassing. There was a jagged splinter of glass buried there.
//Paradoxical child,// her thoughts smiled, //but I understand ... it is a legacy from last time, which makes you think I shrank from lying with you. Why should that be? There is nothing shameful in the act of love. My people still mate this way, at times, even though it is no longer necessary for us to do so. But we have learnt to couple at the prompting of our minds, not of our bodies ... to complete the union with another that is dear; a union that was begun by the growing harmony of spirits. You see now, and understand?//
//I ask your pardon.// Spock's thoughts ran cold at his presumption.
//Then you have not understood,// Ijlal told him, patiently. //The value of a being is not in what he is, but what he strives to be. You more than most have set your aim high. Too high, in fact. I can look back and still tell you that perfection is impossible for any one of us.//
He was conscious of her hand on his face, brushing the damp hair that lay tangled on his brow.
//In removing the need from your mind, I wished to set you free to make your choice, my dear one. Not to be driven, but to weigh and consider, and seek what pleases you. And for whenever the fire threatens again, I have left the memory of the water within you, and you will remember the path by yourself.//
At her words, Ijlal felt the long lean body relax at last, and was content. //So,// she went on, //if you should ever decide you want me to prove my words with actions, I shall await you. It is a long time since I felt so drawn to another mind. Your sun is so small and new, yet shines so bright.//
Spock's arms clung, still reluctant to leave her support.
//Your friends are anxious, we must go to them. But first I will show you how we pledge affection among ourselves.//
She placed her fingers lightly on the inside of his wrist, where the life-pulse beat, guiding his round so that he could feel her slower surge. He was suffused with a quiet sweetness.
//And now, show me your way...//
He knelt to face her, taking her free hand, enfolding it like the calyx round a furled bud, and the sweetness deepened.
//And the gesture of your human ancestry?// she prompted. //I will not be content with part of you!// And she bent towards him for his shy kiss. In the intimacy of the triple embrace, he tried to say to her the forbidden words, but //No, child// she hushed him, //not now. If and when you know what you are saying, uninfluenced by weakness and misplaced gratitude. There ... now there is nothing wrong but tiredness and with that, too, I can help.//
A strengthening flow of mental energy coursed through him, and thus sustained, he released her, and stood up, unflattering. The proud head came up, the back straightened. He was the serene-eyed Vulcan once again, logical mind back in complete control, and a quietness in his heart.
* * *
Kirk and McCoy had finished laying in supplies some time ago and had sat for what seemed an age, biting their fingernails to the quick, much after the time-honored fashion of expectant fathers, side by side on the shuttlecraft steps. They jumped to their feet, faces ablaze with joy, when they saw the missing two members of the ship's complement coming towards them. Two pairs of eyes conducted a microscopic check-over of the impassive Vulcan. He looked completely normal and the visual evidence seemed to be borne out when he enquired cooly why they were wasting time getting underway by standing and staring when they had barely enough time to make the conference in comfort. But later, when they came to the cockpit, determined to say how glad they were to have him back among them, he did allow them to give his shoulder a squeeze, favoring them each with a look which acknowledged the friendship that existed among them.
* * *
Ijlal was not surprised to find Spock waiting for her in her rooms on the last evening of a successful conference, for the effects of the mind-meld they had shared could never be fully dispersed. She could have sensed his motives, but had decided she should give him the courtesy of speaking for himself. She hoped he would not feel the need to back up pledges he had given when he was in no fit state for promises. But it seemed she need not have worried. He was calm and grave when she came through the sliding doors.
"I came to say goodbye," he said. "The Enterprise arrived last night, and we shall be leaving in a few hours."
Clearly he did not realize the redundancy of leave-takings. Her block on his awareness of her presence in his mind was successful. This bond was not forged out of free choice, so it was wrong that he should be conscious of it, despite the fact that she found it pleasant.
"Farewell, then, Mr. Spock," she said. "Live long and prosper."
He raised a hand, long fingers parted, and echoed her words. But then, unexpectedly, he went on, dark eyes fathomless as he spoke.
"I shall not change my mind."
He turned rather abruptly on his heel and left the room, but the cry of pain his mind uttered at the parting lingered in the still air, long after he had gone.
Ijlal sighed. As she feared, he had not the strength to retain the memory of the new experience, without loss of equanimity. And so, within infinite regret, she reached out cautiously, taking care not to damage the circuits that bore the escape-route from the madness, and destroyed all recollection of the delicate emotion which was still too newly-formed to bear a name.